Like most forms of cancer, early detection is key when it comes to ovarian cancer. But the vague symptoms and difficult to detect tumors consistent with the disease make it very difficult for doctors to pinpoint it in its earliest stages. But a new method of early screening may help to change that and improve a woman's chance of detecting — and surviving — this deadly disease.

In a small trial of roughly 4,000 women, researchers from the University of Texas have been testing the idea of using a blood test to determine a woman's risk for ovarian cancer. A protein in the blood, called CA125, becomes elevated when ovarian cancer is present. But past research has shown that this blood test alone is unreliable as a cancer detector. It misses cancer in some patients and gives false positives for otherwise healthy women.

Researchers are testing the idea of using the blood test to sort patients into groups based on their predicted risk levels. In the past, patients with high CA125 levels may have headed straight for surgery. But in this trial study, which followed post-menopausal women for about 11 years, low-risk patients are tested again at their yearly check-up, medium-risk ones are reevaluated after three months and high-risk patients have an ultrasound to look for tumors.

According to the study, 10 of the women who participated had surgery to remove ovarian cancer tumors and all of the cancers were detected at an early stage. The survival rate for ovarian cancer is 90 percent when it is caught early, compared to less than 30 percent if it is discovered in the later stages.

Researchers hope to confirm these findings with a much larger study of 50,000 women that is taking shape in the U.K.

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